The importance of mentoring in healthcare IT [podcast]

Scott_Lindsey_Podcast_Resized.jpgMentoring is more than just an expert teaching a student, it’s a method of education that allows a deeper level of learning and understanding for the client-side team. The best healthcare IT consultants understand how critical this skill is, ensuring that plenty of time is spent providing lessons learned and best practices to help make the client successful and equipping the client team for that day when the contract comes to its end. Nordic’s Implementation Strategy Director, Lindsey Manzuk, recently sat down with Scott Isaacson, Director of Affiliate Solutions, to discuss the importance of mentorship in the complicated land of healthcare IT.

Enjoy the podcast. If you'd prefer to read, the full transcript is below. 


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Show Notes

  • [00:00] Intros
  • [01:57] Why is mentoring important in the Epic space?
  • [03:41] What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
  • [04:20] Technical dress rehearsals
  • [06:19] How does mentoring actually work? 
  • [07:40] What are some tactics consultants can use for mentoring?
  • [10:26] Additional experience outside of Epic resources
  • [11:22] Closing remark


Lindsey Manzuk:  Hello. Thanks for joining us today. My name's Lindsey Manzuk. I'm the implementation strategy director here at Nordic, and today we're talking about mentoring and its importance. I'm also here with Scott. Scott, would you like to introduce yourself briefly?

Scott Isaacson:  Absolutely. My name is Scott Isaacson. I'm a director of affiliate solutions here at Nordic.

Lindsey Manzuk: To start off, Scott, I know now you're a director of affiliate solutions here, but you had quite a variety of experience before you started in that role. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your previous work?

Scott:  Sure. Absolutely. Like many of us out in the industry, I started at Epic as HIM technical services. I was there for a short time and moved into the insurance industry. I never really thought I was going to get back into healthcare IT, until I worked at one of the local Madison Epic customers as a full-time employee for three-and-a-half years. After that I was looking for my next adventure, and I moved into the consulting world, eventually joining Nordic and working on quite a few projects – Community Connect, mergers and acquisitions, optimization – before joining the home office a little over a year ago.

Lindsey: Wow, so really a wide variety of experience. You have both been on the customer side, working with consultants, and then also on the consulting side, working with customer FTEs and sort of seen mentoring from both of those perspectives. Why do you think that mentoring is so important, especially in the Epic space?

Scott: We always start out with certification, and certification is a great foundation. It provides us with a common language and a way for us to easily communicate, but that's just the beginning. Some things that the certifications don't really play to is integration and integrated areas, as well as best practices. One thing that I picked up a lot from working with some experienced consultants as a full-time employee was not only how to build the system, but what are best practices surrounding that. Something else just related to certifications, it's a snapshot in time. I got certified at Epic here in Ambulatory back in 2008, best practices have changed a lot since then, functionality has changed a lot since then. It's always great to keep up on that, and mentorship is one of those ways. 

Lindsey:  Then what about non-system things that you need to be prepared to do as you're on some sort of Epic team? Any experiences there?

Scott:  Sure. Absolutely. I think it's really important. Your day-to-day interactions with operations is probably one of the first things that comes up. You'll be working with your operational partners day in and day out. Along with that is just team work, in general. How are you working in the team? Whether that's interacting with project managers and end users alike or all the way up to the CIO. 

Something else that doesn't really come from certification is general project management technique, as well as just general task management. Then there's other things like upgrades, special updates, that are part of the Epic lifecycle, that perhaps you won't get as part of certification.

Lindsey:  Definitely agreed. I remember some of that from my time back working at Epic, too. What do you think are some of the benefits of having some more experienced people available to mentor some of the newer FTEs, especially at a customer that might just be starting out?

Scott:  Sure. I think if you look at the kind of overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done as part of any Epic install or long-term support, I always look to mentors for providing context. If you think about that big bucket of work, what's the most critical thing that needs to be done? What's important to be done? What's nice to have and then what's not important? Other than those contexts, what order do you do those in to make sure that you're overall successful? A nice way to boil that down is right task and right time.

Lindsey:  What about when customers are going through an implementation, and they’re about to maybe go through a new event that folks haven't been through before, like a technical dress rehearsal or even a go-live? Do you remember talking with, maybe, customer FTEs while you were a consultant and sort of telling them what to expect, and how did that go?

Scott:  Absolutely. A lot of the value that a consultant will share is, "I've been there, I've done that. These are the scars on my back," and you can learn from that. Largely, you've had the conversation, "I've done that, that way. It didn't work out so well, so let's look through a different approach." It's also a really easy way to provide some expectations around a lot of those different events. What does go-live actually look like? You may have one perception if you've never done it before, but if you've had somebody that's been around the block a few times, they can give you that realistic view of how things come together. 

You can also provide a lot of context around some of the other things like technical dress rehearsal. Again, that was something I dealt with both as a full-time employee and then as a consultant. It's something we've all done kind of on the clinical side of things. Understanding what's the most important, what's the most efficient way to actually get through such a monumental task like that. 

Lindsey:  Then I also remember training was a key area where, once training starts how the team works together sort of shifts because you suddenly have another thing happening, and you have questions coming in and you sort of have another environment that you need to be maintaining. I remember at one of my customers, the more experienced folks were very helpful in helping make sure the team was organized in a way where they could support all of the different tasks that were going on.

Scott:  Absolutely. I think that environment management is really important. The fact the analysts need to be there, kind of side-by-side with the trainers providing additional support in some of that additional context. Eventually, as training kind of comes together you're involved less and less, but as questions and comments come up and if there's any ill deficiencies it's always right there to provide that support.

Lindsey: When you were working at a customer site as an FTE, how did the mentoring that you received from other folks you worked with actually work? What did that look like?

Scott: In my particular experience, I had switched applications since I worked at Epic, so I moved into the Ambulatory space. It was my first time, both working with the Ambulatory application, but it was also the first time doing implementation. As part of that, we had both access to Epic and consulting resources. The customer I worked with had access to both. What was really great was the consultants were able to take on a higher volume of work, given their experience. I got some of the less complex clinics, and the consultants were able to take some more of the complex clinics. In terms of overall engagement, they were side-by-side with us. They attended our weekly meetings. Half of the time of our weekly meetings were dedicated to educational topics, so many times that was either run by the supervisor of the team or one of the consultants who had basically done that work before. 

The other thing I really appreciated about having access to consultants is they were often times on site more often than Epic was, just due to the nature of the install, but I was able to approach them with a very simple question, "What screen is this found on?" to other things that were very complex, so "How do I approach this really big integrated topic that I don't even know where to start?"

Lindsey: Great. Then as a consultant and then also in your current role – because I know you work with a lot of consultants directly still – what are some of the actual tactics that you've used to effectively mentor others and grow them?

Scott: Sure. I think a lot of consultants really approach the task of documenting as working themselves out of a job, right? We know we're there for a limited time, and our goal is to make sure that we're setting up the full-time employees at our clients to be self-sufficient once we move off. Whether that's documenting everything that we do on all of our build, which is a pretty common expectation, regular meetings with those folks to provide mentorship and just provide an open forum for discussion, and then I think what's really important and we all strive for this, is a formal transition plan. Before your contract ends, making sure that you've got documentation, a trail of everything that you've worked on. A nice way to think about it is, "What information would I want as a full-time employee, to make sure that I would never have to contact this consultant again?" In other words, "I need this to be one pretty package with a bow on it that we would make sure gives them all of that experience that we went through."

Lindsey:  Then, as you're working with folks and thinking about growing them, is there a certain way that you sort of think about the work, so you can split it into different buckets, for lack of a better term?

Scott:  Absolutely. When it comes to the methodology in approaching that, there's different situations that lend themselves to different kinds of methodologies. The first point is, if you're working and it's a very complex area, and it's very time-sensitive, it might be best for the consultant to just do that work, do documentation and talk about it later. There's also the methodology in which you have the full-time employee do the work themselves and you basically provide a check afterwards to make sure things are going well. Then, even one step further removed than that is just general guidance. Basically, where do you finish? What resources do you use? Where do you start? What other people should you be talking to, and what methodology should you use for analysis and build? Then if you have the time, probably the most preferential is working side-by-side, doing the work together and talking through all the different phases of the project.

Lindsey:  As a consultant, were you mentoring multiple people or did you sort of have one person that you were partnered with and everyone at the customer site had sort of a mentoring partner, and how do you think that worked?

Scott:  Yeah. I've seen it done both ways. In one instance, one of the clients I worked with, I was mentoring an entire team, so we would go through formal education topics of some of the advanced application items. Then I've also been partnered, kind of side-by-side with an individual person as they work on a particular task, clinic or build option.

Lindsey:  All right. Thank you. Lastly, I know you mentioned before when you worked at a customer site there were Epic and consulting resources. I know at Epic, also, experts are there to help grow team members. How do you think having additional experience, folks can sort of augment and enhance what Epic brings to the table?

Scott:  Sure, I think you're getting to the fact that, obviously, Epic is a great resource and somebody that our customers often go to first. There are different types of projects in which Epic may not be staffed, so if it's a new module install or perhaps an affiliate Community Connect install, we don't always have access to those Epic folks. As I'd kind of mentioned before, with consultants, they're often times on site more often, so just access to them is a little bit greater. Then, many times consultants may offer more experience and ultimately a different perspective, which I think is always really important when it comes to these types of projects. 

Lindsey: All right. Well those were all of my questions. Thank you very much, Scott, for your time. I appreciate it.

Scott:  My pleasure. Happy to be here.


Topics: Epic Consulting

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